It has been a long tough winter. The recent cold weather has caused some Ozarkians to hunker down and think about the upcoming “March Madness” of college basketball.
However, a few anglers have found fish to be quite cooperative, with bass tournaments needing 20 pounds to cash a check. The crappie bite has been good also, with limit catches of fish over 12 inches.
Bass Pro Shops Spring Fishing Classic, the ‘annual rite of spring’, ended last Wednesday. According to Katy Mitchell, Outdoor Communications Coordinator, they held approximately 20 seminars and about 200,000 outdoor enthusiasts attended the event.
Missouri’s trout season opener has come and gone, with an estimated 8,600 anglers plying their skills at Missouri’s state parks. Each year anglers stand elbow to elbow with their fly rods, line, and dry flies creating unmistakable swishing sounds in the misty dawn.
The beauty and tradition of opening morning is usually punctuated by a few exchanges of words between anglers that range from encouragement, to envy, to disparagement.
Some overnight campers at the trout parks sat impatiently waiting for their catch to cook in a sizzling pan of hot oil. Others ate hotdogs then fell asleep hoping their luck would change the next morning.
However, the best is yet to come, soon the serviceberry, redbud, and dogwood blooms will be the harbinger of even better fishing for most of the lake’s species.
Not everyone favors the finesse fishing required for trout, opting instead for the more strenuous art of spoonbill snagging. By now, spoonbill’rs have replaced missing or worn tackle, cleaned and oiled their rods and reels, and spooled new line.
The anticipation of snagging one of these prehistoric monsters has erased any memories of sore muscles from last year’s efforts. Spoonbill snaggers in the Ozarks do not cast their huge weighted hooks as they do in some waters. Anglers here are smarter; they troll while sweeping the rod forward to ‘set the hooks’ into a paddlefish.
Some of the lake’s top snagging spots are the upper 40 miles of the Osage River Arm around the Ivy Bend and Coffman Bend areas. When the water warms, spoonbills move upstream in the area below White Branch Marina.
Good fish also come from the Upper Grand Glaize arm, the Big Niangua near Clearwater, and from the river below Bagnell Dam. These areas are highly dependent on current flow and water temperature.
The snagging season for spoonbill opens Friday, March 15 and closes Wednesday, May 15. The Mississippi River has an additional season that runs from Sunday, September 15 through Sunday, December 15.
The legal keeper length is 24 inches, measured from the eye to the fork of the tail, except on Lake of the Ozarks and its tributaries, Table Rock Lake and its tributaries and, Truman Lake and its tributaries, where the minimum keeper length is 34 inches.
Soon the walleye will begin their spawning run upstream. Well-informed anglers ply the tailwaters of Truman Dam and Bagnell Dam. While the walleye will have spawning on their mind, they will readily bite live and artificial baits like jigs tipped with minnows or nightcrawlers.
Also, jigs tipped with chartreuse colored curly tails have been productive below Truman Dam and jigs tipped with black Berkley Gulp Leeches have worked well below Bagnell Dam.
But a huge chunk of angling time will be spent on bass and crappie. As a testimonial to that, 78 bass tournaments were scheduled for March and 63 are already scheduled for April.
Bass and crappie will be looking for warm shallow water spawning areas in protected coves. Preferred lures for bass include jerkbaits, crankbaits, multi-rigs, and spinnerbaits while sight fishermen will toss soft plastics and jigs. These lures will saturate spawning areas; some anglers will be very successful while others will wonder if there are any fish in the lake.
The crappie spawn typically peaks when there are 13 or more hours between sunrise and sunset. The males look for pea gravel banks, preferably with a little cover, where they clear out small beds. Females suspend just offshore waiting for the right time to drop their eggs.
Minnows hooked through the lips and fished under a slip bobber are an excellent choice but jigs from Blakemore, Buck Creek Baits, and Slab Buster work well throughout the year.
During the spawn, crappie anglers often mistake male white crappie for blacks because of their dark spots. While the lake has a growing population of black crappie, white crappie males turn quite dark in the spring.
And, next month the white bass should be running shad in deep coves. When you see their swirls on the surface, cast small spinners and crankbaits like Worden’s Rooster Tail, Norman’s Little N or Deep Little N, or spoons like a silver colored Dixie Jet into their midst. The action will be fast in furious when you find them.
Surely you did not think “March Madness” only applied to college basketball.